From NPR, reporter Eleanor Beardsley talks to a couple of people involved in the city.
Reporter Karim Baila spent two months in Marseille filming a documentary for French television on the city's troubles. He says he wanted to understand what was at the root of the violence stalking his native city. Since the beginning of the year, drug- and gang-related shootouts have killed 20 people, many of them cut down by automatic rifles. Marseille is also France's purse- and chain-snatching capital. Some 840 gold chains have been ripped from their wearers' necks since June.
Baila focused on the city's huge juvenile delinquency problem. He believes the problem starts in the isolated housing projects on the city's north side.
"There is poverty, discrimination and segregation where we've put people in these high-rise ghettos," Baila says. "And they are so overcome by unemployment and misery that a parallel economy has taken over. Drugs and gangs now rule, and they've become no-go zones for the police."
Drug running from one of the high-rise complexes can bring in anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 a day, Baila says. The gangs move marijuana, cocaine, heroine and ecstasy. The dealers operate with impunity; their idol is Al Pacino's character in the film Scarface. And by age 30, they're often in prison or dead.
Saida Hidri runs a support group for mothers living in the high-rises. She lives in one herself, in an apartment on the 15th floor, which she reaches via a ride on a dirty, graffiti-tagged elevator.
Hidri says unemployment in her neighborhood is nearly 50 percent.
"The kids drop out of school to work but there are no jobs. So they fall into the drug gangs where they can earn good money," she says. "But later, if they want to leave they'll be killed because they know the network. They're prisoners, and so are their families. That's why we live in fear."